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British air resumes Riyadh, US flights
( 2004-01-06 09:30) (Agencies)

British Airways resumed flights to Riyadh on Monday and its much-delayed service to Washington took to the skies again amid heightened security fears of a September 11-style attack.

But U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, speaking to CNN, warned long-suffering passengers that more cancellations due to security threats were likely in the future.

He also said the U.S. government would maintain a high state of alert for at least the next few days.

The United States began fingerprinting and photographing visitors from most countries in a controversial program to try to prevent potential terrorists slipping in through its borders.

"This is a confidence-enhancing measure. You have to start somewhere," said Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International.

But analysts fear the tough new security measures, including the contentious use of armed sky marshals, are likely to raise fears among passengers rather than allay them, and U.S. and European airliners are likely to suffer most.

London's Heathrow Airport was "on a heightened level of security with high levels of police patrolling," an airport spokesman said.

Police armed with machine guns stood guard at terminal four, where flight BA223 to Washington finally took off after a delay of more than three hours.

Increased security checks and a hold-up while permission was granted by U.S. authorities for the flight to leave were blamed for the delay.

The flight was canceled last Thursday and Friday because of a security alert passed on to the airline by the British government. It was escorted into Washington's Dulles airport by fighter jets last Wednesday.

British Airways resumed flights to Riyadh on Monday after they had been suspended by a terror alert.

The airline, which flies three times a week to the Saudi Arabian city, axed last Wednesday's and last Saturday's service, because of security information from the government.

The internationally co-ordinated operation to pinpoint extremists targeting aviation faces a daily dilemma.

Western intelligence knows just enough to believe that specific flights are at risk but apparently not enough yet to be able to track down individuals or make arrests.

British Airways staged three hours of what it called "useful and cordial" talks with pilots over deploying armed air marshals.

"It remains our position that we will accept the deployment of an armed police officer on board one of our flights if we are satisfied that safety would be enhanced to an acceptable level," an airline spokesman said.

"If there is security information about a particular flight that gives us cause for concern, then we will not operate that flight," he added.

The BA cancellations have sparked suspicion among some pilots, who say the airline is unhappy with United States' demands to put armed air marshals on board some flights.

Britain announced last weekend that armed marshals would be deployed on some flights as a "last line of defense" against would-be suicide hijackers. The announcement sparked anger from the pilots association, who said they did not want guns on planes.

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